Native Plants for the Not-So-Hallmark Holiday


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Bleeding hearts are beautiful,
Do you think so too?

For those of you who do not buy into the whole sweetheart theme of Valentine’s Day, there are plenty of wonderful native plants that just might agree with you. Though their common names may not inspire a sonnet, a walk through their habitats may get you in the mood. Read on for fun hikes and times of year to see these fascinating plants—with less-than-loveable names.

Bleeding hearts, otherwise known as Dicentra formosa, is a small herbaceous perennial most commonly found growing in clusters in moist understory woodland environments. It has gray-green, heavily divided, fern-like leaves—and clusters of delicate pink, heart-shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. The best place to see this plant is along the Muir Woods Trail under the redwoods during the summer months.

Dog-faced violets (or for those who speak Latin, Viola adunca) is a tiny, mat-forming perennial commonly found in meadows, oak woodlands, or other forested environments. Its sweet blue-violet flowers bloom from April to August, are pollinated by insects, and suggest anything but a dog’s face! Take a walk along the Batteries to Bluffs Trail in the Presidio, and stop and pop up to the new World War II Memorial to get a great view of the Golden Gate and a few little violets. 

Death camas (Zigadenus fremontii) can also be referred to as star lily, due to its showy spike of white star-shaped flowers in the late spring. It has long slender green basal leaves that emerge in dry rocky soils after winter, but beware—as the name suggests, this plant is poisonous! View nice patches of this bulb along the Old Springs Trail in Tennessee Valley, or the Coastal Trail where it meets Slacker Ridge, in the Marin Headlands. 


Spineflower, a rare native annual known as Chorizanthe cuspidata, is endemic to the San Francisco Bay Area and is mostly found in open sand dunes. It has small, hairy white-to-rose-colored flowers that bloom June to August, and can be easily overlooked as it grows so low to the ground. Get a glimpse of this elusive native at Fort Funston, along protected areas of the Chip Trail; look for the reddish ground cover with a fuzzy flower.

Remember, there is an appropriate flower for every holiday season, and a perfect excuse to get out into the park. So what if Valentine’s Day is not your favorite? Presidents Day is just around the corner.

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